Skin Cancer: Are You At Risk?

Since farmers spend long days outside in the sun's harmful rays, they are at risk for having some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. A health screening at a recent farm event showed that nearly 30% of the farmers that were in the age group of 51-65 had some form of pre-cancerous skin disorder.

Some types of cancer have identified contributors. For example, overexposure to the sun is the principle cause of skin cancer. However, skin cancer can be treated if caught early. Skin cancer is defined as a disease in which cancer cells are found in the outer layers of the skin. There are three types of skin cancer: Squamous and basal cell cancers have a survival rate of 95% if found early and treated properly. There are many early warning signs of these types of cancer.

Some examples are:

  • A change on the skin such as a growth or a sore that won�t heal.
  • A flat red spot that is rough or scaly.
  • A small lump that can be smooth, shiny or waxy looking.

The third type of skin cancer, melanoma, can appear suddenly and is a very aggressive type of cancer. This is why early detection is essential. Melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells, appearing to be varied shades of tan, brown, or black. A change in the size, color, shape or texture of a mole, the development of a new mole, or any other unusual changes in the skin, see your primary care physician or a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Who's at Risk?

Anyone who is exposed to sunlight is at risk for skin cancer. However, people with the following characteristics have the highest risk for melanoma:

  • Fair complexions that burn or blister easily.
  • Blonde or red hair
  • Blue, green or gray eyes
  • Excessive sun exposure during childhood and teen years or blistering sunburns before age 20.
  • A family history of melanoma.
  • More then 100 moles on your body; 50 if you are under age 20.

Sun Safety Tips

Everyone should practice sun safety, regardless of amount of exposure or physical characteristics. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater. (Wear even on cloudy days)

Apply sunscreen year round. The sun can cause damage in the winter and autumn as well as spring and summer.

Reapply sunscreen every two hours when outdoors especially if you're sweating.

Wearing tightly woven lightweight and light-colored fabric can actually keep the body cooler in the sun and will protect against cancer-causing rays. There are many companies that manufacture high-quality sun-protective clothing. And there is a sun-protective solution by Rit-Dye that you can wash into everyday clothing to make it protective. Long sleeves and pants add extra protection for your arms and legs.

Try to schedule your workday to reduce the time spent in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Wear a 4-inch wide, broad-brimmed hat, hats with double brims or removable flaps or an Australian-style cap with a full brim. (A traditional baseball cap provides little protection)

Add a bottle of sunscreen to your first aid kit so it's always available. Be sure to toss outdated sunscreen, as it will have lost its effectiveness.

Try to avoid reflective surfaces, which can reflect up to 85% of the sun's damaging rays.

Farmers face many potential hazards in their line of work from machinery injuries to chemical exposures from fertilizers and pesticides. One that may not be as visible comes from the sun's ultraviolet rays. While farmers rely on the sun for crops to flourish, they often don't realize too many of these invisible rays may damage their skin, leading to skin cancer, premature aging of the skin, and suppression of the immune systems.

Understanding how to best protect your skin from the sun can help prevent skin cancer, if you are not following the above tips then start today. Remember sun safety and skin cancer awareness should be incorporated into your safety tips for your children and grand children.

Have a great summer and a prosperous harvest season.

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